For 4 servings
For the soffritto:
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- Olive oil
For the soup:
- 1 cup barley
- A ham bone (or ham hock)
- A sprig of rosemary
- Salt and pepper
- Enough water to cover generously (or a mixture of broth and water)
For the mushroom garnish:
- 100g (1 cup) sliced (or chopped) fresh mushrooms
- 1 handful of parsley, finely chopped
- Olive oil
Sauté the onion and carrot until soft, then add the garlic and stir. Season as you go. Add the barley, allow it sauté gently as well for just a minute or two to absorb the flavor of the aromatics.
Place the ham bone (or ham hock) over the barley, together with a sprig of rosemary. Pour in enough water to cover all the ingredients generously, by at least 5 cm/3 in.
Simmer the barley and other ingredients for at least an hour, until the barley is nice and tender but not mushy. Add water from time to time if you need to—and chances are, you probably will, since barley absorbs a lot of liquid.
About 15 minutes or so before the soup is ready, sauté some thinly sliced mushrooms in a bit more olive oil until nicely browned and reduced, mixing in a bit of minced parsley just before you remove the mushrooms from the heat. Add the sautéed mushrooms to simmer along with the barley until done.
Remove the ham bone from the pot, scrape off any bits of ham meat, chop it up and add the meat back into the pot. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
Serve your mushroom barley soup hot, topped if you like with un filo d’olio and a generous grind of black pepper.
This is a wonderfully rustic soup that lends itself to any number of variations. Probably most common is the substitution of dried mushrooms, reconstituted in warm water but not sautéed, for the fresh mushrooms, which gives the soup a much more assertive mushroomy flavor. You can also vary the aromatics by, for example, adding some leek and/or celery. You can also vary the herbs—instead of rosemary, a bay leaf and/or some fresh thyme is a nice change of pace. Some recipes also make this soup ‘creamy’ with the addition of buttermilk, milk or cream.
Mushroom barley soup can be made ahead, but if you do, you’ll need to add more water or broth, as the barley will just keep absorbing the liquid until none is left. Perhaps there is a limit to the liquid that barley can absorb, but if there is, I haven’t encountered it yet.